Skip to main content

Description and General Background to Ships' Logbooks as a Source of Climatic Data


Meteorological observations made on board ships prior to 1854 have until now been overlooked in climatological research largely as a result of the lack of rigorous abstraction and treatment criteria. However, the CLIWOC project has shown that millions of potentially valuable observations have been preserved throughout Europe in the many logbooks that were prepared by officers in the navies of the great powers. Moreover these data can be used and treated in a fashion similar to today's ship-based instrumental observations. The most significant logbook collections are from Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and France. This paper describes the main archives where the logbooks can be found and provides an account of their contents and of the manner in which they were set out. The potential of this source is emphasised by the fact that whilst the CLIWOC project abstracted data for 300,000 days, nearly 90% of the European logbook collections have yet to be examined. This paper concludes with a discussion as to the direction of future studies in this important field.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Bonnichon, P.: 1992, Los navegantes franceses y el descubrimiento de América (siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII). Colección Europa y América. Ed. MAPFRE, Madrid.

  2. Bourgin, G.: 1963, Inventaire des archives de la Marine. Service Hydrographique. Sous-serie 4JJ (Journaux de bord). Deposée aux Archives Nationales, Imprimerie Nationale. Paris.

  3. Garay Unibaso, F.: 1987, Correos Marítimos Españoles. Correos Marítimos Españoles a la America Española. (Yndias Occidentales). Vol. I. De 1514 a 1827, Ediciones Mensajero. Bilbao, pp. 246.

  4. García, R., Díaz, H., Herrera, R. G., Eischeid, J., Prieto, M. R., Hernández, E., Gimeno, L., Rubio, F., and Bascary, A.: 2001, ‘Atmospheric circulation changes in the tropical pacific inferred from the voyages of the manila galleons in the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries’, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 82, 2435–2455.

    Google Scholar 

  5. García-Herrera, R., Können, G. P., Wheeler, D., Prieto, M. R., Jones, P. D., and Koek, F. B.: 2005, ‘CLIWOC: A climatological database for the world's oceans 1750–1854’, Clim. Change, this volume.

  6. Harries, H.: 1928, ‘Nautical time’, Mariner's Mirror 14, 364–370.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Hewson, J.: 1951, A History of the Practice of Navigation, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Jones, P. D. and Salmon, M.: 2005, ‘Preliminary reconstructions of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Southern Oscillation index from wind strength measures taken during the CLIWOC period’, Clim. Change, this volume.

  9. Koek, F. B. and Können, G. P.: 2005, ‘Determination of wind force and present weather terms: The Dutch case’, Clim. Change, this volume.

  10. Können, G. P., Zaiki, M., Baede, A. P. M., Mikami, T., Jones, P. D., and Tsukahara, T.: 2003, ‘Pre-1872 extension of the Japanese instrumental meteorological observation series back to 1819’, J. Clim. 16, 118–131.

    Google Scholar 

  11. López Gutierrez, A. J.: 1996, Archivo General de Indias. Inventario de la Sección de Correos, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, pp. 794.

  12. Oliver, J. and Kington, J. A.: 1970, ‘The usefulness of ships' log-books in the synoptic analysis of past climates’, Weather 25, 520–527.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Prieto, M. R., Gallego, D., García-Herrera, R., and Calvo, N.: 2005, ‘Deriving wind force significance from nautical reports through content analysis’, Clim. Change, this volume.

  14. Quetelet, A.: 1854, Rapport de la Conférence, tenue à Bruxelles, sur l'invitation du gouvernement des Etats-Unis d'Amérique, à l'effet de s'entendre sur un système uniforme d'observations météorologiques à la mer. Annuaire de l'Observ. Roy. de Belgique. 21, 155–167.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Records of Fort St. George: 1960, Public Despatches from England for the years 1752–5. Egmore.

  16. Wheeler, D.: 1995, ‘The weather vocabulary of an eighteenth century mariner: The logbooks of Nicholas Pocock’, Weather 50, 298–304, reprinted in The Marine Observer, 67, 22–28, 1997.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Wheeler, D. and Wilkinson, C.: 2004, ‘From calm to storm: The origin of the Beaufort Scale’, Mariners Mirror 90, 187–201.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Wheeler, D.: 2005, ‘An examination of the accuracy and consistency ships' logbook weather observations and records’, Clim.Change, this volume.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. García-Herrera.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

García-Herrera, R., Wilkinson, C., Koek, F.B. et al. Description and General Background to Ships' Logbooks as a Source of Climatic Data. Climatic Change 73, 13–36 (2005).

Download citation


  • Europe
  • Future Study
  • Climatic Data
  • Great Power
  • General Background